“It’s a good deal that you came to our country” – unknown taxi driver or welcome to China :)15 August 2019
It all started with a dream. Dream to be different. Dream to change. Dream, growing from the understanding that something in the world is not right, but no one is doing anything about it.
That is what unites us – different but the same in our hearts and souls: me from Ukraine, Heart, and Jeffrey from the USA, Aida from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dikla from Israel and our wonderful participants from all over the world, who decided to come and join us for the First European Peacebuilding conference.
Our Conference “Building Bridges Across the Globe” was possible due to the generous support from River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding and because of the Collaboration for Community Impact Grant from the Community Solutions Program, supported by IREX, as both I, Aida and Dikla are the alumni of this program. Our organizations: Narko-Ne and Youth for Global Progress were also co-sponsors of the event. However, most of the planning, evaluation, and Community Justice programs were provided solemnly by RPCP and were driven by the incredible energy and support from Heart and Jeffrey, who through their kindness and belief in our Peacebuilding mission enabled CSP alumni to create this event, and we are deeply grateful for our partnership.
Some might call us crazy because planning conference while being on different continents and time zones can be challenging. But I don’t think that there was a more perfect place to have it at: in the heart of Europe. Wounded, but not broken Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The country that witnessed the outbreak of the First World War, the largest siege after the Second World War, and one of the most serious in the history genocides. Although the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia is not yet completed, the eventful historical events in Sarajevo still attract history connoisseurs and simply curious tourists from all over the world.
The 4-year-old siege of Sarajevo was the longest after the Second World War. Even now, the city has many references to the Balkan War – cemeteries throughout the city, the “tunnel of hope”, which has now become a museum, historical museums, and sculptures throughout the capital.
Now you can understand, while I think that Sarajevo was a very special place to host a Peacebuilding conference, aimed at sharing, learning and growing together in our common goal – to plant the seeds of hope all across the world.
After we opened the application process, we have received 185 applications from all across the Globe and after very careful and tough selection process we sent invitation letters to 25 participants, coming from 13 countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ukraine – Poland, Israel, Russia, Hungary, Slovakia, Kyrgyzstan, Philippines-Italy, Nepal-UK, Georgia, Serbia, and the USA.
And what made this experience especially unique is that we combined the expertise and knowledge from the CSP Alumni and international participants in wonderful collaboration, creating an education hub during the days of the conference when everyone was learning and immersing into each other cultures.
During 8 – 12 September 2019 we had panels and interactive talks on key issues with an emphasis on Trauma Responsive Communities and Social, Emotional, and Ethical Learning; various workshops on building valuable leadership skills and networking receptions and intercultural collaboration. The highlight of the event is that River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding shared the Community Peacebuilding model, where the principles of justice, trust, and human connection are implemented and can be distributed throughout different communities in the world.
Moreover, with the guidance of River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding vision, we provided the chance for our participants to develop collaborative Action Plans based on their unique experience, expertise, and vision, and I have to say that on the day of presentations, we were astonished by the incredible ideas and plans for the next 6 months, that they will implement! The plans included the videos and interviews with refugees in Balkans; webinars and projects on gender equality and youth empowerment in EU and Eastern Partnership countries.
I just have to say that we look forward to these collaborations and results that they will bring!
Also, during the conference we decided to use the opportunity to tell more about the work that River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding is doing globally and about Community Solutions Program to the international participants, that is why in one of our sessions, the alumni were able to present their experience in the USA and actions plans, that they developed and carried out in their respective countries. Bosnian organization Narko-Ne supported us in our workshops and Restorative Justice training by providing us with space, materials, and continuous engagement.
That contributed to building cohesive partnerships across the participants.
We talked on how we can support each other in taking the next steps and what unique contributions can we each make. During the World Cafe, we came with topics on rebuilding communities post-conflict, refugees and IDPs social adaptation, environmental justice, and anti-hate speech and gender violence. Also, we thought about what challenges might come our way and how we meet them and what kind of conversations if began today, could ripple out in a way that created new possibilities for the future.
In overall, this Conference was far beyond our expectations. It was even hard to call it a conference since it was more of the Immersion of our thoughts, ideas and dreams into a common vision and plan for our countries. And I can’t even express how grateful we are to River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding and Narko-Ne for making our dream come true!
Arriving in Bosnia, I realized that I did not have enough information on the history of the country. Visiting museums helped me to better understand the tragic events that occurred there. In the Mostar, I also discovered the more ancient past of the Ottoman Empire and Austro-Hungarian rule.
It turns out Sarajevo is often called European Jerusalem. There is something to it because it is full of diversity. There is nothing better than a walk through Bashcharshia, the old city, to hear church bells, the smell of strong coffee and fresh bread from bakeries.
Surprisingly, some people think that there is still a war going on in the Balkans. Unfortunately, the older generation did not escape the scars of war. However, the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina left the war behind and are very hospitable for tourists. But it is still hard to hear the stories from residents about what they had to struggle with during the war times, and I think Bosnia needs time to heal. I have no doubt that soon there will be many tourists who can appreciate the beauty of the locations. But it is still a place where it’s hard to have fun when you see traces of bullets in buildings. But the locals are learning to live anew, and we can help with this.
For me, Bosnia and Herzegovina is far more than just a trip to a new location. It is magical. It is surprising. It holds the lessons of history which show that in the civil war there are no right and guilty.
And it is a place, where you learn that Peace is Possible and that we can be the main driving force for it.